Tag Archives: Baptist

If I Had Preached…

One of the gifts our congregation gives to their ministers is an occasional sabbatical—a time to get away and rest and recover.  That is what I am doing January-February.  It is a wonderful time to just be, to read books that don’t have anything to do with a sermon, to think about things that I don’t have time to think about during “normal” time.

But these are not normal times.  This past week my daughter texted me wondering if I was glad or relieved that I wasn’t preaching this week.  I said, “Yes.” 

I didn’t preach this week.  Instead I worshipped with the congregation of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham and heard a wonderful sermon from my friend Dorisanne Cooper. 

But the events of this past week, especially with the immigration ban, got me thinking about what I would have said if I had been preaching.  It isn’t complete, but here is what I think I would have said.

The fall of 1978 I had the privilege of studying in London.  During our break a group of us traveled around Europe—Cologne, Munich, Interlaken, Rome.  I left the group to visit some friends who were studying in Venice, but then had the task of making my way across Europe, to London, alone.

Now remember that I am an American, which means I speak English.  Only English.  For several days I had the chore of trying to read menus, find restrooms, get directions.  You can only imagine my relief when I finally boarded the ferry in Calais that would take me across the English Channel to England.

In the words of that famous author, Snoopy, “It was a dark and storm night!”  All night long the ferry was being tossed to and fro making sleep impossible.  To ward off the tossing and turning of my stomach I walked the deck.  It was one of those where even the most sober looked drunk!  It was about 45 minutes from arrival when suddenly, the clouds parted and a full moon was shining on the white cliffs of Dover.  Even now I remember the feeling, that feeling of, If I can just get there!  If I can just get there I will be able to read the signs; I will be able to understand; if I can just get there I will be home!

I was just a student trying to get back to a dorm.  But I have thought about that experience in these days, thinking about those families arriving at JFK airport in New York, just a few feet away from being in their new home, in the United States, the land of freedom where the Statue of Liberty proclaims, “give me your tired, your poor your huddled masses yearning to be free,”  What would it be like being that close, and being turned away.

That was the case for countless men and women and children last night as a result of the presidential order issued by President Trump Friday.  Basically the order severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely. It has been met with protest around the country because many have received this as being an anti-Muslim ban.  But it also raises questions for us about what it means to be Baptist, about what it means to be Christian.

You see, if we are Baptist, really Baptist, this is rule that we must reject, oppose, protest.  We must because it goes against the very core of who we are!  It goes against our history, our beginning.

Roger Williams was exiled from the Massachusetts colony by the Puritans for his religious beliefs.  He was driven into the “howling winter” and would have died if not for the hospitality of the native Americans.  Later he bought land from them and established the colony of Rhode Island which he was was a colony for those distressed of conscience, a place where everyone was free to worship, or not worship, in the manner they saw fit. 

At our best that is who Baptists have always been.  We have been the defenders of religious liberty, not only for ourselves but for everyone! Even if their beliefs have run opposite from ours.  We have done so because of our deep belief in soul competency, the right and responsibility of ever person to deal with God.  The government has no right to come between, nor to discriminate against any religion or faith!  That has been the hallmark of Baptists.  It has been the shining American light.

On Friday night that light was dimmed.  How will we respond?  Will we just sit back and say nothing?  Will we be more concerned with who wins the Pro Bowl?  Will we see this as just another political dispute that really doesn’t concern us?  Or will we say that our history, our heritage, who we are as Baptists demand that we reject this discriminatory ruling?  This really is a “Who are we” moment.  We can say nothing, but then integrity demands that we remove the name Baptist from our sign!

It is an important question, an urgent question.  But it isn’t the most important.  The most important question is one of our faith.  Are we going to be followers of Christ? 

The Bible is clear!  “The Bible has a lot to say about immigrants and immigration.  In fact, the Hebrew word ger, the closest word to our concept of an immigrant, appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone.”  We claim to be “People of the Book.”  So hear some of what the scripture has to say to us, today!

“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9)

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

“Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other!” (Zechariah 7:10)

“You have brought your judgment days near and have come to your years of punishment [because] father and mother are treated with contempt, and the foreign resident is exploited within you. The fatherless and widow are oppressed in you” (Ezekiel 22:4, 7)

“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever” (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Psalm 146:9)

“‘I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me,’ says the LORD of Hosts” (Malachi 3:5)

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2)

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11)

“‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

So much of the time we live an easy faith.  We live a nice faith.  We live what has been called moral deism—just be good people, nice people, polite people.  And most of the time, in our nice, polite, Southern Christian culture, that really comes close to passing for Christian.

But there are times….Times when we need to decide who we are; time when we have to decide.  I want to suggest that this is one of those times.  This is one of those times when we have to decide if we are Baptist.  This is one of those times when we have to decide if we are Jesus people.  This is one of those times. 

Last fall Anita and I had the opportunity to visit Boston.  Our last afternoon, totally by accident we stumbled upon the Boston Holocaust Memorial.  It is very simple, just some glass panels over a subway grate where heat and steam push upimg_3253.  On the glass panels are images of the concentration camps.  But what struck me was the inscriptions on the ground—quotes from survivors, ministers, rabbis, historians.  One in particular caught my attention and my soul.  It read, “While most people aided the Nazis or looked the other way, there were some courageous individuals in Germany and throughout Europe who risked their life to save the Jews.”

50 years from now when the Muslim Holocaust memorial is built, where will we stand?  With those who aided the oppressors, or looked the other way?  Or will we counted among the courageous, the faithful, the Baptists?

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My Afternoon at the Mosque

DSCN8308This past week our city, the Holy City, made international news again as a presidential candidate proposed that our nation bar all Muslims from entering for a time.  This in a city that from the very beginning was an open and welcoming place for all faiths—Catholics, Huguenots, Baptists, Jews, and yes even Muslims were all welcomed to Charleston!  It is that freedom that has allowed a vibrant religious conversation to take root.

And yet…

Too often we stay within our little ghettos.  The Catholics play with the Catholics; the Protestants sometime play with he Protestants; the Baptist play with the Baptist that are like them.  Every now and then, when there is a tragedy like the one we experienced when Mother Emanuel was attacked, we might play together.  But normally…

The result is a level of suspicion and fear is allowed to take root.  Because we don’t know each other we can fall victim to the rumors and untruths that swirl around.  “You know Catholics pray to Mary.”  “You know Baptists don’t dance or drink, and handle snakes!”  “You know Muslims are all terrorists!”

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Mayor Elect John Tecklenberg addressed the audience

Add that to our Charlestonian desire to be mannerly, to do things correctly, to not offend, to never make a cultural faux pas—then it is easy to understand why we stay on our side of the rivers, within our faith, within our church, within our own kind.  The result is that we never really know.  We are guided by our fears.  We stay estranged and divided from each other.

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In the aftermath of this week, the Central Mosque of Charleston had a open house on Saturday, inviting the community to come and meet and learn.  It was a courageous move on their part.  they didn’t know how the community would react.  They didn’t know how many would come.

I went with my own set of fears.  I had never been to a mosque before.  How am I suppose to dress? What do I do?  What is I am the only one there?  (I now understand the courage it takes someone to come to our church every week!)  Plus, to be honest, it is not in the greatest location.  It is located at 1082 King Street, far from the where Second Sundy on King will take place!  But because I am Baptists and believe deeply in freedom of religion, I went.  What I discovered was wonderful!

IMG_0745We were greeted warmly by members of the mosque—who cover 29 different countries!  Clear instructions and assistance was given.  The only problem was that there weren’t enough chairs!  What a wonderful problem to have!  Many just sat on the floor as Iman Issa led us through a wonderful introduction to Islam, dispelling many of the rumors that we often hear.

IMG_0750Now I know that there are many who will choose to believe what they hear in the media, from friends and neighbors who know absolutely nothing about Islam, or who have had one bad experience.  I am hoping that I am not judged by what people assume or have experienced of a Baptist minister! 

IMG_0762I am not converting to Islam.  I am a Christian by choice and it is through that lens that I see the world and choose to interpret the world.  But that doesn’t mean that I cannot learn from my Muslim cousins.  (Someone raised a question about that.  Abraham had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac.  Jews and Christians trace our lineage back through Isaac; Muslims trace their lineage back through Ishmael.  Both go back to Father Abraham.  That makes us religious cousins!)

That doesn’t mean that we cannot work together, to minister together, to build community together.  We do that across denominational lines.  We do it across faith lines.  Perhaps it is time to do it across family lines as well.

I encourage you go visit the Central Mosque of Charleston.  I am sure you will receive a warm welcome.  The members are doctors and professors and teachers and children—just like us!  They are a part of our community.  They want to join us in making this truly a Holy City!  I hope we can do that—together!IMG_0753

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I’m Tired of Saying “I’m Sorry!”

I’m sorry.

It may be the most common phrase in my work.  I am sorry about the death; I am sorry about the diagnosis; I am sorry you didn’t like the music, the sermon, the temperature. 

It seems that I spend a lot of time apologizing.  It is just a part of what ministers do.

But more and more I find myself having to apologize for the actions, the words of other ministers.  More and more I find myself in conversations with individuals who are trying to live in the aftermath of a theological tsunami that, in the words of Anne Lamott, would “make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

It happened again today and it sent me into a rage.  According to a report in the Washington Post, Governor Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee made this statement about the thousands of Syrian refugees seeking somewhere to live.

“Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?”

I am sure that is it!  I am sure fathers are putting their families in little rubber rafts to cross the Mediterranean in the middle of the night; paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers who don’t even provide life jackets in order to get to another country in time for the new season of The Walking Dead!   And don’t forget that Showtime will soon have another season of Homeland, and they probably know Carrie from her days with the Taliban!

I am sure that these people are streaming away from home for basic cable—not the total destruction of their homes; syria-destruction-war04-400x265

not seeking to escape the refugee camps;refugee camp

not hoping that maybe they might have a future anywhere else but here!

This callous remark came from a man who dares claim the name minister!  Even more, he is a Baptist minister!  Which means that I will have to apologize to my friend at Ali Baba’s whose family in Jordan lives a mere 45 miles from Syria and has seen their communities overrun with refugees.  I will have to try to explain that the word of one politically-crazed Baptist doesn’t mean that every Baptist feels that way.  I will have to apologize to people who pass by our church with the “B” word on the sign!photo (1)

I am tired of apologizing!  As much as I know I should just listen to the Frozen soundtrack and just Let It Go!, there comes a time when letting it go is consent!  No more!  Mike Huckabee, if you want to claim to be a Baptist, a minister, even a Christian, please take some time to read the Bible!  Not even the whole thing, I know you have a campaign to run.  But at least read the text we used Sunday at Providence (way out of season, but how was I supposed to know it would be so fitting!)  Just read the first part of Matthew 2, where you find the story of Joseph taking his family to Egypt for basic cable.  No!  Like the tens of thousands from that part of the world, they are running for their lives!

But maybe Mike, maybe you are too busy to even read the Bible.  Well then, try this poignant poem that we read in worship Sunday. 

  From the Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied

no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

i don’t know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here

That’s why they are leaving Mr. Huckabee.  They are leaving because home is now the mouth of a shark—not to catch the next episode of Sharknado!

I spend so much time apologizing for things in life that are beyond fair, beyond control.  And I will willingly do that.  But I refuse to apologize for the rabid rantings of a man who does not know the Jesus I serve, the Jesus who was himself a refugee, who said “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” 

No, Mike Huckabee!  For you and your ilk—I will say “I’m sorry” no more!

As the old gospel song goes, “I will stand alone on the word of God,” and say that you don’t know what you are talking about.  Even more, you don’t know the one you claim to talk for!

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When Episcopalians Become Baptist

St. Phillip'sFor several years I have watched the struggle within the Episcopalian Church.  I have resisted commenting, because I am not Episcopalian.  I am a Baptist minster.  There is something about jumping into the middle of another family squabble that seems unmannerly, and in Charleston that is something that we dare not do!

But this morning on the front page of the Post and Courier, Jennifer Berry Hawes reported that the case is now going to court.  As I read it I was reminded of a conversation I had with a former Episcopal bishop over a decade ago.  The rumblings were beginning.  We were finishing up breakfast when I commented, “You need to read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is going to be replayed!”  He laughed, slapped me on the back and said, “Don, that’s not going to happen!  We are Episcopalians!

I wish I could say that I was wrong, but as the years have passed, I have watched as the Episcopalians have become more and more Baptist—not only in South Carolina, but across the country.  Time and time again churches and dioceses have chosen to drop their polity, their way of doing church, their hierarchy in favor of the autonomy that Baptists have long treasured and endured!

I understand that!  The church I serve, Providence Baptist on Daniel Island was formed out of a difficult time in Baptist life.  Baptists have historically held firm to 4 freedoms—soul freedom–an individuals freedom to stand before God without an intermediary; Bible freedom–an individuals freedom to read and interpret scripture for themselves under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; church freedom—the freedom of a local church to choose thie own way; and religious freedom—the freedom from state intervention in matters of the soul.  Those are historical beliefs, ideas that made Baptist “misfits,” radical.   There was a sense that those freedoms were being undermined and so we departed.  We left, and have voted 3 times not to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention!  We know what it is like to leave. It is hard!  It is messy! But it is at the core of being Baptist!

Now our Episcopalian brothers appear to desire to be Baptist!  They are beginning to value local autonomy over the hierarchical structure, with local congregations choosing not to follow the diocese, with the diocese choosing not to follow the national church.  So very Baptist!

At its core, however, they are engaged in a battle about hermeneutics.  That is a theological word that refers to how one interprets the Bible.  While many trace this current conflict back to issues around sexuality, at its core it is how you interpret scripture.  When the Bible speaks against homosexuality, are those verses gospel, binding on all Christians for all time?  When the Bible says that women should be quiet in church, is that authoritative?  The scriptures that speak about caring for the aliens among us, selling everything and giving it to the poor—do they still apply?  In short, the issue is how one interprets scripture.

It is a sticky issue!  No one, no one, takes the Bible literally!  No matter what they say!  We all pick and choose which scriptures are “more Bible” than others!  The question is how we decide!  How do we decide is, dare I say it, more important that what we decide! This struggle is one which every denomination, every church, every individual Christian will have to struggle.  It is one that will shape the face of Christianity.  It is not fun!  Ask the Baptists!  It has cost us seminaries, retreat centers, congregations, relationships.  It is painful!

I had so hoped that I would be wrong all those years ago, that our Episcopalian brothers and sisters could have avoided this battle!  Time and the courts will decide what happens next!  My guess is that we will all look a lot more “Baptist.”

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July 8, 2014 · 2:53 pm

I Knew It Would Happen!

I just knew it was bound to happen!  From the moment I heard Pastor Charles Worley’s hate-filled words at Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC I just knew it was a matter of time!  After all, Providence…Baptist…Carolina,,,obviously they are all the same!  Right?

So it really was no surprised when I woke up to the following email this morning:

You are disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Jesus never meant for the Bible to be used to spew hate, anger, and lack of compassion. You should read a lot more and realize that homosexuality is not a choice. Can you please tell my why anyone would choose this? I know you have no valid answer. Maybe one day you will have a gay grandchild then maybe you won’t be so ignorant. You are a disgrace to your Church, Protestants, & your Congregation.

Of course, the first temptation is to just hit delete.  After all, the writer “knows not what he does.”  But too often that is what we do.  We refuse to respond when people put words into the mouth of Jesus, or confuse us with complete idiots, or speak for a God that we don’t recognize!  And so I decided to respond.  (I know you are shocked!)

Here is my response:

Dear (name withheld)
I really had wondered how long it would be before we received an email such as yours.  Let me say that I completely understand your outrage at the remarks made by Charles Worsley the pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC.  My guess is that your email was directed to him, and not to Don Flowers, Pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charleston, SC.
I understand how such a mistake could be made.  Any time a person sees “Baptist,” the assumption is that “they are all alike.  Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Baptist come in all theological, political and ethical persuasions.  That is the wonderful/horrible thing about being Baptist.  We deeply value the freedom that each individual has to read and interpret scripture under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It is an individual interpretation–not a “Baptist interpretation.”
With regard to Pastor Worley’s comments, I agree with you that they are disgusting, full of hate, anger and totally devoid of compassion.  In short, they don’t have anything at all to do with Jesus!  I say that as a Baptist minister, and even as the pastor of Providence.  I dare say that there are no members of our congregation who would agree with his remarks.
This is a different kind of congregation!  if you take the time to view our website, www.providencecharleston.org, you will see that our vision statement, on the home page, clearly says, to be a loving, inclusive, Christian community…”  We do not have a litmus test concerning sexuality, obesity, greed, anger or any other issues concerning who is welcomed here.  As I have said in a sermon, “Providence is open to all who know they are in need of the grace of God…and who does that not include?”

Perhaps my failure has been in allowing Pastor Worley to get the press while remaining silent, knowing/hoping that the world would see him as the homophobe that he is, rather than seeing him as a spokesperson for God and Baptists.  Your email has awakened me to the realization that luxury is no longer possible.  Thank you for your encouragement.  I hope you will read the article by Dr. Bill Leonard who truly expresses the feelings of so many of us.  http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/item/7444-a-baptist-shame
In the future, though,  I hope that you will distinguish between individuals Baptist churches, pastors, towns and states.  It is just as un-Christ-like to brand every Baptist as crazy!
If you are ever in Charleston, SC, I hope you will come and worship with us at Providence to experience the kind of community that i truly believe you are seeking!
Sincerely,
Dr. Don Flowers, Jr
Pastor
Will it make any difference?  I don’t know!  But I can hope–hope that this individual learns something about what it means to be Baptist, hope that the Pastor Worleys of our world will not get all the attention, hope that I might have the courage to speak out for the Jesus who loves me…and all of God’s children!

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